Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Transition avoiding the North face

On Friday SEL's new publication Transitions became available on line. It has already been downloaded several thousand times, a number that should increase as the document is now listed by the National Audit Office. We are waiting to see which public bodies will distribute it to their staff and what comes from those conversations. For me it is a fascinating process and interestingly one that would have been unthinkable without the imperative for change we're now faced with. I hope to be able to take part in some of those deliberations.

Transitions launches next Tuesday evening at London Early Years Foundation HQ in Westminster. With keynote speeches from Sir Steve Bullock (Mayor of Lewisham), Derek Myers (CEO of Kensington & Chelsea Council) and June O'Sullivan (LEYF CEO), it should be an absorbing evening - book your place here, there are still a couple left.

By producing Transitions, it’s associated training programme and creating the Transition Institute, a forum of experts to provide the strategic thinking behind an ideal social value program, SEL are doing their bit to make sure change means change for the better. My job is to keep my eye on the horizon and make sure that our advice is sensible, articulate and constructive without slipping into group hug rhetoric or alientating the very people upon whom the success of this process depends.

The principles for social enterprise remain the same - it's inspiring but complex, it can deliver so much but only if everyone involved in the process understands what it’s about and someone, somewhere has to be prepared to make an investment, so the idea has to be a good one.

Yesterday I met with yet another local authority CEO to talk about social enterprise and the remodelling of public service delivery and then went on to participate in Lambeth Council’s ongoing dialogue around becoming a cooperative council. I am one of the participating commissioners and have found the process absolutely fascinating. Yesterday we met Barry Quirk CEO at Lewisham Council and author of the landmark Quirk Review, and Ben Page, CEO of Ipsos MORI and pollster extraordinaire. Frankly I could have listened to them both all day, gripping stuff. Fellow commissioner, Richard Bridge of Waterloo Community Coalition, with only a partial tongue in cheek wondered if once our final report has been submitted, whether we would be able to apply for a masters degree at the end of all of this, given the quality of the presentations and discussions, which have been superb and absolutely of the moment.

The debate is on defining the nature of ‘community’, scoping the appetite for engagement and setting the agenda for change. I salute Lambeth’s approach to this issue and I have to say the programme they have outlined for themselves shows real vision. Barry and Ben (there's a joke there somewhere) gave considered, and highly informed views on the issues. The discussions themselves are subject to Chatham House rules but the gist of prioritising function over form and social engagement run throughout. Ben’s stats were really thought provoking as was his deadpan delivery on what separates opinions, attitudes and values. He told the group that people changed their opinions quite frequently, but their attitudes were more entrenched and as for values, those are the foundations upon which people build their lives, and are for the most part fixed. So are we hoping to change people’s opinions, attitudes or values? The latter being an attempt to take the summit by the North face.

But that's the point isn’t it? Those of us that advocate community based business models are trying to engage people’s values and sometimes change their opinions, at least if they think that social value and profit are oil and water. We know that they can work for mutual benefit, and I for one am looking forward to showing people how.

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